The Outdoor Club of East York was brought into being by Gary Collins, an East York resident. In the early 1970s, his wife and he took up cross country skiing. Pretty soon his passion drew in neighbours and friends. They also went hiking, canoeing and camping together, keeping active in all seasons. After a few years as the group grew, Gary decided to organize more formally into a club and in 1976 he founded the Outing Club of East York. Gary was the first president. His home became the club office, with a second phone line put into the basement. His family were enlisted in the tasks of building and promoting the club. Others in the original group included Bud Mark, Gary Lynas, Rosemary Preskett, Nora Scollard, Luz Ruelos and Jim McGinnis. Gary Collins also brought in Charles Sauriol, a well-known naturalist and conservation advocate.
Charles Sauriol was the club’s “Trails Consultant”. In an early President’s Message, Gary Collins noted: “A special thanks goes to Charles Sauriol who has proved to be our best advocate and asset”. Sauriol was in his early 70s when the club got started. He would have introduced club members to his much-loved haunts in the Don Valley and its numerous side valleys. Sauriol himself wrote of how “the Outing Club of East York ranges the Don Valley, at times taking public transportation to a distant point then walking back along the ravine system”. Sauriol had roamed the Don for decades, and fought many battles to save it. His two books on the Don, Remembering the Don and Tales of the Don, remain classics. They describe the history of the Don and recount his own adventures. For many years Sauriol had a cottage and several acres beside the Forks of the Don. His conservation legacy includes the Charles Sauriol Conservation Area that runs up the East Don Valley between Eglinton and Lawrence. It is part of a larger Conservation Reserve also bearing his name that reaches down as far as the Forks of the Don. In 1991, Sauriol also helped found the Todmorden Mills Wildflower Preserve, further down the valley, south of Pottery Road.
An early promotional brochure for the club reads: “The Outing Club is a friendly club, so why not consider joining us and changing your life style to include the great outdoors?” Initially, the club’s main activities were canoeing, hiking and cross-country skiing. It explicitly set out to offer members a year-round program and in the first year the club ran over 50 outings and events. It also provided instruction in skiing and canoeing. Ski instruction was a family affair – Gary Collins instructed the adults, his wife instructed the children and even their daughter participated, demonstrating ski technique. The club also purchased a fleet of canoes with the help of a grant from Wintario. Bicycling was added to the calendar in the early years too. Doug Hogg introduced Tuesday evening bike rides in the city – he worked evenings but Tuesday was his only night off. Over time the club’s cycling, hiking and skiing trips ventured further afield, beyond Southern Ontario to British Columbia, Quebec, the U.S., Europe and even Baffin Island and Iceland. While the club always had some social events, in the 1990s it developed a distinct “urban events” program. More recently, as the number of retired members grew, it has offered more mid-week events.
To this day, the club has stayed true to its original aims of being a volunteer-run group dedicated to helping members enjoy year-round outdoor activities. As in the early years, an effort is made to organize events for all levels of recreational expertise and intensity. In 2013, the club modified its name to become the Outdoor Club of East York.